A new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets reveals how the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has captured unprecedented images of Saturn’s changing seasons. Since the conclusion of NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission in 2017, the JWST has provided valuable information about Saturn’s atmospheric dynamics.

Using the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), researchers were able to capture infrared images of Saturn’s northern hemisphere during the summer. These images allowed them to analyze the structure of Saturn’s clouds and measure the distribution of temperatures and chemicals in the atmosphere.

One of the notable findings from the images is the warming of Saturn’s northern polar stratospheric vortex, a circulation pattern of gases. Previously observed during Saturn’s spring, it was expected that this vortex would cool down and dissipate as winter approaches. The images also revealed a reversal in the airflow pattern in Saturn’s stratosphere, indicating a scarcity of hydrocarbons in the northern latitudes.

MIRI data also enabled researchers to map the distribution of various gases for the first time. Water was detected in the troposphere, and ethylene, benzene, methyl, and carbon dioxide were found in the stratosphere. Additionally, high levels of ammonia were observed at Saturn’s equator, suggesting similarities to the atmospheric processes of Jupiter.

These findings provide valuable information about the end of summer in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. The success of MIRI demonstrates the advanced capabilities of the JWST in studying planetary dynamics. The research contributes to our understanding of planetary climate patterns and the impact of changing seasons on atmospheric conditions.

– Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, https://doi.org/10.1029/2023JE007924
– Stanley, S. (2023), James Webb Space Telescope captures Saturn’s changing seasons, Eos, 104, https://doi.org/10.1029/2023EO230371